The summer of 2010, the Spanish football selection made history when Andrés Iniesta scored the winning goal against the Netherlands. (It’s we not discuss the bleakosity of the 2014 World Cup). Spanish football fans will always be asking where you were when Iniesta scored the goal and Spain brought home the Cup. It was my first real moment of a shared Spanish cultural experience.
I was in Daimiel, Ciudad Real, working at a summer camp with a bunch of teens (who are now all in their early 20s) who went absolutely mad (crazy mad, not angry mad) when Spain won. While I regret not being in Madrid or Valencia (I was in the process of moving from Madrid to Valencia), I couldn’t ask for a more authentic experience.
Needless to say, this summer camp is my only real experience in Ciudad Real. I’ve canvassed the province many times via bus or train on trips to Andalucía, but I haven’t spent much time there. It is definitely “España Profunda”. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Don Quixote himself looking for ways to impress Dulcinea even today (after the siesta and fútbol match, of course).
Ciudad Real probably doesn’t spring to one’s mind when they think of Spain or even Castilla. Toledo and Cuenca are far more popular, even amongst the Spanish, who are travelling through Castilla (which is the heart of Spain…and the equivalent of the heartland.) It’s agricultural and rural, ranking 46 out of 50 provinces in population density. It has two national parks (one I’m listing as one of the meravelles). Much of the province is a plain (La Meseta Central), yet has extremely dry summers. Just pointing out that Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Dolittle are LIARS. (I’m a bitter sun-chaser located in the rain of the Basque Country that would drown even Noah at this point.) The south of the province features the Sierra Morena (the Black Mountains). The capital city has 75,000 habitants and is located 185 kilometres (115 miles) from Madrid.
A lot of the places I’ve seen from the train and bus crisscrossing the province look enticing to me. They may disappoint when I finally get to visit them, and they may impress me. But for now…a list of potential seven wonders for the province of Ciudad Real.
Ciudad Real y el Museo de Quijote
The province capital, Ciudad Real, which is also a stop on the AVE (high-speed train), dates back to the 13th century and Alfonso El Sabio (the Wise). Their cathedral boasts the second largest nave in Spain and their Plaza Mayor is quite attractive. They have two walls from the time it was a walled city, and they also have an infamous airport for sale for only 80 million Euro (mocked in Pedro Almódovar’s Los pasajeros amantes.) And for me, the most attractive thing in the city would actually be a museum. The Museum of Don Quijote. I love the Quijote.
Daimiel, the only place I can say I really know in the province, is a quaint city of 17,000. I remember it being very hot as I was there in the month of July. I never got to see the Tablas de Daimiel National Park, which despite being the smallest Spanish national park features some beautiful wetlands. The wetlands are important for birdlife. Daimiel is famous for the Venta de Borondo, which is mentioned in Quijote, perhaps as one of the places he stayed at during his journeys. (Quijote was fictional? Who knew.)
Calatrava, la Vieja y la Nueva
Located 60 kilometres apart (36 miles), the two Calatrava Castles from the Order of the Calatrava are a tourist attraction for castle aficionados. The original castle dates back to 785 and was once part of the only important city in the Guadiana River valley and guarded the roads between Córdoba and Toledo. It was originally Muslim and conquered in 1147 by Alfonso VII. It was reconquered by the Moors but reconquered again by the Christians for good in 1212. However, the Order of the Calatrava moved to Calatrava La Nueva in 1217. The “newer” castle is located in Aldea del Rey (the King’s hamlet for those who don’t speak Spanish) while the old one is located in Carrión de Calatrava.
Manzanares, population 19,186 as of 2009, looked quite nice from the Madrid-Linares (Jaén) train when I passed it my first year in Spain, and I’ve always wanted to stop here and Alcázar San Juan. Manzarares has a castle, the Museum of Manchego Cheese (Museo de Queso Manchego) and several churches and ermitas. It’s located 60 kilometros (36 miles) from the province capital.
Villanueva de los Infantes
Villanueva de los Infantes, population 5727, is, according to the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, “el lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero recordarme” (the place of La Mancha whose name I don’t want to remember). For those who haven’t read el Quijote, those are the starting words of the novel. It is also the place where Francisco de Quevedo died, which means it is a Spanish major’s dream place to visit.
Alcázar de San Juan
Although the windmills from Consuegra in Toledo are more famous, the small city of Alcázar de San Juan, population 30,675, also boasts windmills and is a good base to explore the Ruta de Quijote. It also has a tower and a few churches. It was formerly a major railway hub.
Although known to be an industrial city, Puertollano, population 50,000, looked very interesting from the AVE Sevilla-Madrid in 2012 when I passed it. I have no clue why some things catch my attention, but this city did. The “puerto” in its name is for “pass”, not port, as it’s far from any water. It’s located on the slopes of the Sierra Morena, so it’s not flat either (“llano” is plain). It’s the home of some botanical gardens, a few churches and a place to rest from hiking in the Sierra Morena.